Turn Your Niche Site into an Online Community

Make no mistake, its hard work, eats into your social life and can take months to establish but the financial and personal rewards of running a community site could well be worth it.

Imagine you are the proud owner of a website that sells football equipment. It is likely that you also have at least a passing interest in football. The people visiting your website also like football and that could be exploited to your advantage.

It’s all about making your site ‘sticky’. How can you get people to come back to your site on a regular basis? The way to do this is to get them involved.

Most people are aware of the value of blogs and I would definitely recommend one for any site. On a community website these can be used to publish the latest news articles on your given subject. Of course for a football related site there is bound to be an endless stream of results, fixtures and injuries for you to talk about. Enable comments to allow your visitors to interact.

You can also add a static article section. On a sports site you could give details of basic equipment needed to get started in the sport, training schedules, first aid advice. Use your imagination!

You could consider adding a free or paid classified advertising element to your site. Of course you would need to consider whether people selling 2nd hand equipment would impact on your sales of new products.

The ‘biggy’ in my opinion is to add a forum. This is where the real hard work comes in at start up. You will probably have to create several ‘fake’ users and pretend to be all of them in order to make the site look busy. Talking to yourself is fun at first but you will need to find ways of encouraging new members to join. If you are already the member of a similar forum you can surreptitiously contact other users to let them know about your new and exciting concept. Get them hooked and word of mouth will take over.

Don’t create a huge forum to start with as dozens of empty categories will just put people off. Instead start small and as the forum grows and becomes busier you can add focused areas and move existing threads into them.

The big advantage to adding a forum to your site is that the content is user generated. You can sit back and watch your members create lots of lovely content that is ‘mostly’ aimed at your industry. Just make sure you choose a good platform with SEO capability like vBulletin.

So what is the point of all this hard work? Well the obvious reason is to bring visitors to your site who will hopefully purchase your products or services. Even if you think that your members are not spending money they will be talking about your site to people who may well do.

You also need to think out of the box. Whilst there may not be any immediate financial gain that you can see for becoming a community site there are other factors to consider.

If you have interesting threads on your forum you will find that they could become link bait. People are often a member of several forums at once so they will probably post on other message boards or networking sites saying ‘have you seen this? What you are getting here is free back links from related websites and possibly a few more members along the way. You should also benefit from an increase in the number of visitors finding you through long tail keyword searches.

Ensure that your navigation to the shopping section of your site is clear so that people who arrive at a news article or forum thread are aware that there is a facility to part with their money should they so desire.

One thing you need to be clear about is that setting up a community site needs careful consideration. It’s a bit like having a new baby. You have to feed it, nurture it and possibly lose a few nights sleep. Only you can decide if you have the stamina and commitment required for the challenge ahead.

Caroline Bell
SEO Advisor

01. September 2009 by Caroline
Categories: Search Engine Optimisation, Social Media Marketing | Tags: | Leave a comment

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